Welcome back to another B1G football season! Who will win? Who will lose? And most importantly who will get fired? Let's find out!
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B1G Football 2021 Coaching Hotseats Preseason
Last year I started writing these towards the end of the year on a weekly basis. It was a therapeutic way to watch Bob Diaco slowly march to the back of the unemployment line. As a reminder I rank the top 5 head coaches and coordinators that are most likely to get fired along with an others to watch section. If a coordinator is ranked, their ranking is based on the likelihood that they are fired, but the head coach is kept. For example if new Purdue DC Brad Lambert were fired, Jeff Brohm would almost certainly be headed out of town as well. You can't have four DCs in four years and keep your job as HC.
From my final edition last year, 3 of the top 5 head coaches and coordinators on the hot seat were let go. Meanwhile Harbaugh bought himself some time by turning over his defensive staff and Scott Frost continued to show misguided loyalty to his coordinators. On the other side of my misses, I completely did not see Penn State letting Kirk Ciarrocca go after they went on a mini winning streak to finish the season. But then they also hired a guy who was on Purdue's defensive coaching staff last year so maybe Penn State just makes poor decisions with their coaching staff?
For this year, I won't be releasing these on a weekly basis until late in the year unless a team gets off to a truly horrendous start. I'll cover some of those scenarios as they apply to each coach. Without further ado, let's get to it.
- Nebraska DC Erik Chinander. 4th season. Salary - $800k. Years left on contract - 1*. Buyout at end of season - $800k*. Chinander has been quite frankly a let down since the beginning of the Scott Frost era. While Frost's loyalty to his assistants is inspiring, if the AD can't put together the $ to oust Frost after another disappointing season they can certainly make demands about his coordinators. Chinander is longer tenured than the OC so he gets the top spot for now. When is the earliest we could see Chinander let go? A loss to Fordham in game 2 would probably spell the end of somebody's career in Lincoln. A 1-3 start with a blowout against Oklahoma is also not recommended. The only other game I could see Nebraska firing a coach after during the season would be Minnesota as the losing the chair would leave the Nebraska coaching staff falling into the fire instead of comfortably sitting beside it.
*Contract details: All Nebraska assistants were extended contracts thru Dec 31, 2022. Although I haven't been able to confirm the amount for the 2022 season, I am assuming it's the same as his salary for this year as I have been unable to find any information that indicates it is set to increase next year. Years left on contract refers to years left at the end of the season.
- Nebraska OC Matt Lubick. 2nd season. Salary - $500k. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $500k. Lubick is in a similar situation to Chinander except he hasn't been there since the beginning and he isn't solely responsible for play calling duties. He splits them with Frost. Question to Nebraska fans - how does having two guys calling plays actually work? In Lubick's first season at the helm, Nebraska's offense ranked 102nd out of 128 teams in FBS football. He will likely need to do better than that to be around for a 3rd season unless Frost has the power to tell the AD "No". Situations for an mid-season firing are the same as for Chinander.
- Michigan Wolverines HC Jim Harbaugh. 7th season. Salary - $4M. Years left on contract - 3. Buyout at end of season - $4M. Harbaugh was able to negotiate his contract with Michigan for another 4 years. But the overall salary is much reduced and the buyout number is extremely manageable. Harbaugh jettisoned DC Don Brown after 5 seasons with him steering the defense and much of the coaching staff was remade. Outside of getting losses to both Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, it's difficult to see Harbaugh getting let go midseason. At the end of the day if he loses to Michigan State and Ohio State again it becomes to difficult to imagine him being back in 2022. If Michigan splits those two games in 2021 (assuming MSU is the win in a hypothetical split) and has a decent but not great overall record, I could see Michigan going either way. Beat OSU? Harbaugh comes off this list.
- Nebraska HC Scott Frost. 4th season. Salary - $5M. Years left on contract - 4. Buyout at end of season - $20M. Let's all be honest here. Frost would be at the top of this list if it wasn't for the buyout amount. Could he still turn things around at Nebraska? Sure, it's possible. And I'm not saying he definitely won't. But a 12-20 record thru three years and no bowl appearances (yes, random Nebraska fan I know he technically could have gone to a bowl last year despite their terrible record - I still wouldn't count it) isn't something that Nebraska fans expect. Without a bowl appearance this year, Frost would be out if it wasn't for the previous AD's incredibly dumb contract extension. Assuming that Nebraska doesn't perform better this year, Frost will hover near the back of this top 5 or the others considered category because sometimes you find a donor that is willing to pay stupid money to get a new head coach (see Indiana/Archie Miller).
- Purdue HC Jeff Brohm. 5th season. Salary - $4.9M. Years left on contract - 4. Buyout at end of season - $???. I've been on record as saying Brohm isn't going to get fired this year despite a 19-25 record (ton of progress from Hazell even if the overall numbers aren't great). So why do I have him 5th? Well partially because I don't know which coordinators across the B1G are going to suck at their job this year. And partially because in a theoretical 1-11 type season, I could see him being let go. But Purdue's athletic department is almost always cash strapped - which is why they didn't even fire their women's basketball head coach outright but had to go with a 1 year succession plan. If you can't afford to fire a women's basketball HC, how are you going to afford to fire a football HC? Well you can't. It's also easy to see the 2019 season being a result of an extreme youth movement following injuries to the few remaining upperclassmen from Hazell's years and the 2020 season being the result of Bob Diaco being terrible at his job. Should Brohm be criticized for hiring Diaco? Absolutely. But does that mean he's not the correct head coach moving forward if he hires a competent DC which he appears to have done with Brad Lambert out of Marshall? This is almost certainly a show me year for Brohm in which he either reinstates expectations in himself as the leader of the Purdue program or sets himself up as a dead man walking for 2022. He will move to also considered section of this article once there are coordinator results to consider for this year. As a side note, I can't actually find any details on Brohm's buyout language. Everything I've found relates to the buyout if another school hires him, not the amount if Purdue was to fire him.
Others to Watch:
- Minnesota DC Joe Rossi (4th season). Despite a great 2019 season defensively, 2020 was a step backwards.
- Michigan OC Josh Gattis (3rd season). Survived last year's staff turnover. I doubt Harbaugh can survive if he's in a position where he needs to fire coordinators.
- Michigan State OC Jay Johnson and DC Scottie Hazelton (2nd season). Last season was written off mostly for MSU as Dantonio resigned late in the process and then COVID meant breaking in a new system was difficult. Still I wouldn't recommend the offense (117th in points/game) or defense (100th in points allowed/game) repeat their performances from last year.
Maryland DC Brian Stewart (4th season). Stewart is a holdover from the Matt Canada interim year. In his first three years the defense has ranked 78th, 115th, and 81st in points allowed/game).Edit: I had incorrectly read the situation on Stewart. While this is his 4th season at Maryland, that's his 4th season total at Maryland. This is his 1st season in his 2nd stint. Thanks to the commenter who pointed out my mistake.
Head Coaches that are Safe After 3 Wins:
After 6 Wins:
- Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State, Maryland, Purdue, Nebraska